The Girls Get Away … To Columbus

Every year, my husband acts surprised when I tell him my mom, sister and I are planning another girls’ getaway weekend in February. I guess he thought it was just a one- or two-time thing, or maybe that we’d “outgrow” it. Last month was our seventh such weekend, and every year gets better. The only “outgrowing” going on is strictly relegated to the way our pants fit by the end of the weekend.

This year, we girls went for a change of pace – instead of cocooning in a cabin in the middle of some woods in Ohio, Kentucky or Georgia, we hit the Big City, also known as Columbus. Don’t laugh. Columbus is the biggest Ohio city, and between 2000 and 2005 it was the second fastest growing city of 1 million or more in America. It is the seat of the state government, the site of The Ohio State University and the headquarters of several national corporations, including Nationwide. It has major and minor league sports, cultural offerings, a nationally renowned zoo, and a diverse culinary smorgasbord.

Urban Hideaway

As I said, a weekend in the city isn’t usually our cup of tea. But our stay in Columbus was just the tonic we needed to help us relax and unwind.

The accommodations were the key. Jeff and Lisa Morton’s Victorian Village Guest House is conveniently located in the Victorian Village neighborhood bordering both The Ohio State University campus and the Short North – an artsy district with boutiques, eateries and art galleries just north of downtown.

Lisa met Mom, Luann and me in front of her renovated 1895 Queen Anne house on an icy but sunny Friday and led us through the wrought-iron gate and down the brick path that borders a large patch of grass in the back yard. She told us they built the detached garage and loft apartment mainly because they needed off-street parking. Initially, they used the apartment to give their out-of-town guests more privacy.

After Lisa was laid off from her bank job in 2008, she decided to operate the guest house as a business.

“It has been great fun. It’s been fun to meet people and great to be part of the business community in the Short North,” she said.

Staying at the guest house was like having our own spacious “cabin,” but in the middle of the city. It’s quiet but only a short drive from the hustle and bustle – about a mile in different directions from the Horseshoe, Short North and the Arena District, and two miles from the downtown business district. Lisa Morton said in the summertime, “it feels like you’re in a treehouse,” because of the centuries-old trees towering over the property.

The 950-square-foot space is filled with many of Lisa’s antiques, culled from her mom and dad’s home and from Short North antique shops such as Grandview Mercantile and Mary Catherine’s. Yet the open floor plan and a soaring ceiling with exposed ductwork give the space an airy, contemporary feel. A 10-foot-high dividing wall separates the bedroom from the great room furnished with a comfy couch, chair and flatscreen TV. A day bed provides additional seating and sleeping space. The small kitchen offers a sink, stove, mini-fridge and laundry facilities. \A full bathroom (painted a scandalous Victorian deep red) is situated next to the kitchen.

Roomier, more convenient and more comfortable than a hotel, and more private than a bed and breakfast, the Victorian Village Guest House suited us perfectly.

That night, we noshed on fruit, cheddar and fontina with crusty bread purchased earlier in the day, and drank our customary glass of red wine each while catching up on each other’s lives. Luann zonked out on the day bed while Mom and I watched episodes of “Modern Family” on DVD and laughed until we cried.

Food Frenzy

Prior to checking in at the guest house, we spent three hours Friday afternoon wandering and eating our way through North Market. The 44,000-square-foot market sits one street off High Street at the start of the Short North district. North Market titillates my oft-dormant bohemian side – microbrews and Ohio wines; cheese, milk, butter and produce from Ohio farms; ethnic specialties from the Mediterranean, India, Korea, Poland and Italy; fresh local game; artisanal bread and pizza baked on site.

After circling the market twice, Mom chose cabbage rolls from Hubert’s Polish Kitchen. I couldn’t resist lamb curry with basmati rice and naan bread from Flavors of India, and Luann picked pasta from Pastaria.

After stuffing ourselves, we went back to purchase cheese from Curds & Whey and a crusty baguette from Omega Artisan Breads for supper, along with breakfast pastries for the next morning.

Finally, we parked ourselves in front of the freezer cases at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Ice cream is always a focal point of our getaways, so Jeni’s was a must. Jeni’s is an artisanal gelato shop with flavors that set off fireworks in your mouth. Listen to these descriptions:

  • Wildberry Lavender – Complex, intense lavender with hints of exotic spices and lots of brambly berry flavors.
  • Bangkok Peanut – Krema peanut butter (a Columbus company since 1898) with toasted coconut, cayenne and coconut milk.
  • Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet – A surprisingly rich sorbet; pure pear flavor with unique pear texture; sweet Riesling notes shine on the finish.

And yes, they also have chocolate – actually Dark Chocolate, described as “mouth-filling, palate-gripping, intense chocolate flavor with a fudge-like texture.” The two members of Jeni’s team working that day were infinitely patient with us, offering sample after sample, and serving us with smiles as sweet as their wares. We must have spent 30 minutes trying to decide. I eventually shunned the exotic in favor of a sure thing: a scoop of Bananas and Honey alongside a scoop of Buckeye State, which is based on the peanut-butter and chocolate confection.

Surly Girls

and Girly Girls

Saturday was a whirlwind of girly goings-on. We started with hour-long massages at Inner Connections Holistic Wellness Center, located just a block down from the guest house. The professionals there offer everything from Thai yoga massage to accupuncture to reiki therapy. Mom and Lu chose traditional Swedish massages, while I went for a deep tissue treatment. We left limbered up and in fine form for a day of eating and shopping.

Lunch at the Surly Girl Saloon at the north (and grittier) end of the Short North was much anticipated and didn’t disappoint. When deciding our itinerary, I messaged a friend on Facebook who lives in Columbus, and she highly recommended Surly Girl with a simple statement: “Beer AND cupcakes!”

Surly Girl is owned by three female entrepreneurs, one of whom, Carmen Owens, serves as the proprietress. Dark, petite and pretty, Carmen regaled us with her restaurant philosophy: “We have fun here.” If she likes it, they do it. They have more than a dozen imports and microbrews on tap, because that’s what she likes. And she loves cupcakes! The chef makes a daily special along with the everyday offering of red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Each cake is topped with a maraschino cherry and speared with a plastic sword to go along with the place’s pirate wench motif.

The menu is mostly southwestern with comfort dishes thrown in.

“Anything that involves queso and chorizo, yeah, let’s go with that,” Carmen said. Chicken and biscuits and grilled cheese and tomato soup (the richest I’ve ever tasted) are staples, as are the pulled pork posole, Wrap From Hell (spicy chicken wrap) and Nacho Mama’s Nachos.

But don’t leave without trying the Surly Girl Pizza, which I have declared “a culinary masterpiece” – a thin-crusted concoction of deliciousness that is topped with pecans, Gorgonzola, dried cranberries and red onions and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. No wonder OSU alumni bring their spouses back just to try the pizza.

Lunch was followed by some antique store browsing before a 3:30 appointment at Mukha Custom Cosmetics and Medi-Spa. Meeting Tim Maurer and his partner Sanito Mendoza Jr. was the highlight of our weekend. Tim is an artist whose clients have included movie stars and models for British Vogue and fashion runways the world over. We were Tim’s last appointment of the day, and he decided we were having so much fun that he “nipped down to the wine shop” to get us a bottle of white.

Mukha means “face” in the Phillipine language of Tagalog, and the moniker is in homage to Sanito’s heritage. While providing medi-spa services including microdermabrasion, massage, facials, hair removal, manis and pedis, Tim’s primary focus is on custom-creating cosmetics. He is known among the Columbus elite for his wedding-day and black-tie-affair beauty services.

Tim sat us at his counter and gave us some personalized beauty tips before mixing and preparing each of us a lipcolor and blush. His cosmetics are made from 100 percent minerals. The sparkles he adds are made with food-grade glitter, and the lipgloss has organic candy flavorings.

Tim took one look at me and said, “Pink is not your friend.” I felt betrayed by my girly old friend, but bravely moved on. Coral is my color, he said, and mixed me a shiny sparkly gloss with cherry-vanilla flavoring. Sanito then melted it in the microwave, poured the concoction into a tube and screwed on an applicator lid. Tim then made a pressed powder blush to match, and taught me how to apply it (also a blow to my ego, as I found I was doing it all wrong.)

Mom and Luann’s egos fared much better. Tim raved about my mom’s youthful appearance. “Wow … I mean, wow! Whatever you’re doing just keep doing it!” he told her. He prepared her a blush that also could be used as a lip color. Luann, he said, is the luckiest of us all because she can wear any shade she chooses. He also remarked how well she applied her eye makeup to complement her green eyes, as I stood there trying not to turn green. Surly-sisterly rivalry (shrug) -some things never change.

Feeling pretty, we invited Tim and Sanito to join us for drinks later at Rigsby’s restaurant, and we headed back to the guest house to rest before dinner at Rigsby’s in the Short North.

Rigsby’s is a bustling upscale casual Italian restaurant with a reputation for being the place for romance and special occasions. Tim advised us to order whatever the chef prepared as a special, so I tried a lamb fondue for starters, and a spaghetti carbonara made with lamb bacon, both a first for me and both delicious. We shared desserts of deconstructed tiramisu and Spencer’s rice pudding with cherry-fig compote, vanilla bean olive oil and fennel biscotti. We then walked off some of those calories while enjoying the First Fridays gallery hop all along the Short North. By the way, Tim and Sanito never showed, but Tim called me the next morning to ask how dinner was and wish us safe journeys.

Village People

We enjoyed our annual Scrabble tourney Saturday night, and I awoke as I always do on Day Three – completely relaxed. Of course, that’s usually the day we go home, and this year was no different. We had one more essential stop: Katzinger’s in German Village.

The family owned and operated deli had a line nearly out the door at lunchtime Sunday. It’s a good thing because it took me that long to decide. Sandwiches come in every combination of deli meat and fresh bread, with names like Big Bob’s Belly Balancer (hot corned beef, hot pastrami, creamy cole slaw, Russian dressing on hand-sliced Jewish rye) and Rachel and Nicki Got Stuck in a Closet (hot slow-cooked brisket slathered with tangy sweet BBQ sauce, creamy cole slaw, Swiss cheese on a kaiser roll).

A barrel of kosher pickles free to patrons sits in the middle of the concrete-floored dining room, with an admonition to take only as many as you will eat. Despite devouring half of a 2-pound sandwich with pickles and chips, I couldn’t resist trying the warmed cherry kugel for dessert. They also do soups (their matzo balls are nearly as big as baseballs), salads, breakfast and catering.

Mom, Luann and I likely will return to our woodsy ways for our getaway weekend next year, but it’s nice to know we have a home away from home in Ohio’s capital city.